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What’s That Plant?

Last week’s blog prompted a few of our customers to ask us to help identify the oaks on their properties. It got me thinking about some of the ways to identify a plant you don’t already know when you can’t get to our nursery for help. Here’s what I came up with. Please let me know if I missed any of your favorites!

1. Dichotomous Keys

I’m probably dating myself a bit, but years ago, this was the technique most of us were taught: users of the key assess the plant’s characteristics and progressively answer questions to arrive at a possible plant identification. This tentative identification is then confirmed by reading a full description about the plant and looking at photographs. As an example, from my copy of Muencher’s Keys to Woody Plants, the first question reads:

A. Plants with leaves present

B. Plants with needlelike, scalelike, or awl-shaped leaves ……….…. Key I, p. 6
B. Plants with broad leaves
     C. Leaves opposite or whorled
          D. Leaves simple…………………………………...…………… Key II, p. 12
          D. Leaves compound…………………………………………… Key III, p. 21
     C. Leaves alternate
          D. Leaves simple………………………………………………... Key IV, p. 22
          D. Leaves compound………………………………..…..…….... Key V, p. 46

If this approach is something you would like to use, Gil Nelson’s Botanical Keys to Florida's Trees, Shrubs, and Woody Vines is a key specific to Florida.

Several organizations are beginning to digitize and make botanical keys available on the internet. One organization is the Native Plant Trust, which has digitized keys to help identify New England’s native plants. You can access that key here.

2. Master Gardener Volunteers

Both Hillsborough County and Pinellas County have a robust Master Gardener program and volunteers are routinely available to answer homeowner’s questions about plants. Take photos of all important parts of the plant and see what they can tell you.

3. iNaturalist
iNaturalist is an online community for naturalists. A joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, the platform allows you to crowdsource identifications for plants and other living organisms. Equally important - scientists are using the data in research projects.

4. Apps and Online Websites
This all-inclusive category includes two of my favorites: Florida Wildflowers and Trees: North & Central Florida (for iOS). There are lots of others - why not tag us on Facebook with some of your favorites?

Oh, and for those of you lucky enough to have spotted an oak but don’t know which one it is, this UF document has some great information about Florida’s common oaks. Of course, feel free to stop by and show us your pictures—we really love it when we get to help our customers learn about our native plants and #NurtureNative.